Google CEO Eric Schmidt to step down, depriving Web of future quotes
This hasn't been a good week for Silicon Valley CEOs. Only three days after Apple chief executive Steve Jobs announced he was taking an undefined medical leave, Google chief executive Eric Schmidt announced that he would hand that job over to co-founder Larry Page.
Schmidt broke the news in a tweet ("Day-to-day adult supervision no longer needed!", poking fun at his 2001 hiring as a sort of industry elder) and blog post. The latter explained that he, Page and other co-founder Sergei Brin no longer needed to guide the company as a trio:
So Larry, Sergey and I have been talking for a long time about how best to simplify our management structure and speed up decision making--and over the holidays we decided now was the right moment to make some changes to the way we are structured.
Page will take over Schmidt's job on April 4. Schmidt will become the company's executive chairman, working on Google's relationships with other companies. Brin (a University of Maryland alumnus) will "devote his time and energy to strategic projects, in particular working on new products," the post explained.
It's impossible to tell how Schmidt's unexpected departure--which also led off Google's press release about its better-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings--will affect Google's services and products. But one thing's for sure: It will be difficult for Page to repeat Schmidt's performance as a spokesman.
Over the past year or so, Schmidt's well-meaning attempts to explain Google and address public concerns have yielded repeated foot-in-mouth moments.
* In December, 2009, he told CNBC's Maria Bartiromo, "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place."
* In March, he brushed off a question about whether people should trust Google with so much of their data by responding, "Would you prefer someone else? Is there a government that you would prefer to be in charge of this?"
* In that same Q&A session reported by Fortune's Jon Fortt, he mentioned that "One day we had a conversation where we figured we could just try to predict the stock market," he said. "And then we decided it was illegal. So we stopped doing that."
* At a conference in August, Schmidt told attendees that "If I look at enough of your messaging and your location, and use Artificial Intelligence, we can predict where you are going to go."
* Later that month, he opined to the Wall Street Journal that "most people don't want Google to answer their questions... They want Google to tell them what they should be doing next."
* In that same piece, writer Holman W. Jenkins Jr. reported that Schmidt "predicts, apparently seriously, that every young person one day will be entitled automatically to change his or her name on reaching adulthood in order to disown youthful hijinks stored on their friends' social media sites."
(After that article appeared, tech blogger John Gruber gave Schmidt a new title: "Creep Executive Officer.")
* In October, attendees at a forum organized by the Atlantic Monthly heard him testify to how much Google could learn about its users with their permission: "We don't need you to type at all. We know where you are. We know where you've been. We can more or less know what you're thinking about."
* In an CNN interview later that month, Schmidt joked that users offended by photos of their homes showing up in Google's Street View mapping feature could "just move." He quickly clarified that he "misspoke."
Now, I've heard Schmidt speak at length more than once and didn't find him to be anything like the James Bond villain you could concoct from those quotes. But as Schmidt has noted many times, the Internet never forgets.
I don't know if Page will be a better manager or visionary for the company he helped create. But I'm pretty sure he can't be a worse spokesman for Google.
(Did I miss any memorable Schmidt quotes? Let me know in the comments.)
| January 20, 2011; 4:36 PM ET
Categories: Policy and politics, Privacy, Search
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